Rail Trail Café opens in Tillson

Tara Johannessen  and Brian Farmer, co-creators of the Rail Trail Café in Tillson

Tara Johannessen and Brian Farmer, co-creators of the Rail Trail Café in Tillson

The new Rail Trail Café parked next to the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail about a mile south of the Rosendale Trestle has only been in business for a month, but it already has regular customers, says Brian Farmer, co-creator of the café along with Tara Johannessen. And yes, you read that right: The café is parked, because it’s in the form of a custom-built mobile food cart that can be moved to and from its location on Stone Mountain Farm, just off the Rail Trail and down the hill from the Center for Symbolic Studies.

The cart – containing the kitchen – is parked under a tree and surrounded by an assortment of café tables and benches at which to eat. Being entirely outdoors, the Rail Trail Café is weather-dependent. It will close if it rains and will be a seasonal location, open mid-May through October, depending on how early the temperatures drop in the autumn.
Farmer and Johannessen got the idea to create a café at the site while working their land at Farmer’s Table Farm, which is located on the Stone Mountain Farm property. Observing all the activity going by them on the trail, it occurred to the couple that they could create a resting spot for all of those Rail Trail enthusiasts, and serve them fresh food straight from their farm. Remembering how they’d experienced different types of food carts offering local cuisine on their travels throughout Europe, Asia and Africa, the pair decided to bring that concept to their own back yard.
With the help of a successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, they were able to build the cart with a kitchen that meets all the requirements and are now open Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., offering a Saturday market time from 9 a.m. to 12 noon with baked goods and produce from their farm. The café is also open on Fridays from 5 to 8 p.m., staying open later for music and performance events, and will occasionally close to the public to cater private affairs.
The café accommodates the many dog-walkers on the trail by offering homemade dog bones to their canine companions, and it has have horse treats for the equine crowd on the trail. There are even hitching posts for horses with picnic tables nearby, so riders can hang out with their horses while both enjoy a snack. Bicycle racks are installed for cyclists, and those who arrive on motorized wheels will find ample parking at the spot, too. The location is tricky to find using online mapping services, Farmer says, but searching for 310 River Road Extension in New Paltz will get you there. Park in Parking Lot A, and look for the café.
Farmer’s Table Farm produces a diverse variety of greens, with micro-greens its specialty. Harvested after just seven to ten days, says Farmer, micro-greens are basically seeds that are planted in organic soil and sprouted. Micro-greens come in a variety of sizes, he adds, but at their farm they prefer the heartier varieties: sunflower greens, pea shoots and buckwheat greens. “They’re full of all kinds of vitamins and minerals, and the sunflower greens are quite high in protein for a green.”
The micro-greens can be purchased in bulk at the café, and they’ll be featured on the menu dishes along with other produce either grown on Farmer’s Table Farm or accessed from within a short distance away. “We want to develop a core menu that a wide variety of people will like,” says Farmer, “but bring in those things that are freshest, local and in season.” This week, for example, they’re making frozen fruit pops with fresh strawberries, coconut milk and agave.
The vegetarian menu includes salads, burritos, steamed dumplings (made with shiitake mushrooms cultivated on logs at the farm) and wood-fired pizzas made with micro-greens and wildcrafted produce: greens grown wild on the farm rather than cultivated. This weekend, pizzas will be made with wild amaranth, which has “kind of a nutty, spinachy taste,” Farmer says, and lambs’ quarters, considered a weed on some farms but edible and nutritious, its taste compared to chard by some foragers.
Johannessen is a published poet with a BA and MAT from Bard who grew up on a goat farm in the Stone Ridge area. Farmer says that he is from a family who loved to cook eclectic and satisfying meals “rooted more in folk culture than a high food culture.” Born in Mississippi and raised in East Tennessee, Farmer is also a musician and visual artist and does agricultural consulting and farm certification.
Once the couple sees how things go this summer, next year may find Phase Two of a Kickstarter campaign to build a sitting and performing space at the café. For now, however, they’re already hosting live music events under the canopy of oaks and maples at the café space, with the next event scheduled for Saturday, July 5 from 7 to 9 p.m. with Thomas Workman, a multi-instrumentalist – on such exotic instruments as the didgeridoo, berimbau and conch shells – and certified sound healer with roots in jazz, world folk music and improvisation.

Rail Trail Café, on Wallkill Valley Rail Trail one mile south of Rosendale Trestle, 310 River Road Extension, Tillson; (845) 399-4800, www.railtrailcaferosendale.com. Read more about local cuisine and learn about new restaurants on Ulster Publishing’s www.DineHudsonValley.com or www.HudsonValleyAlmanacWeekly.com.

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